Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Anger Management On Almuric!
This novel by Robert E. Howard is a puzzler of sorts. It was not published until after his death, when it was serialized in Weird Tales in 1939. Some are suspicious of the authorship, though I don't think there is a groundswell on this point.
The story was adapted to comics form by Roy Thomas and Will Conrad many years ago in Epic magazine. I still have those issues, but I don't have great memory of the adventure. It's been something I've been going to get around to reading for some time. Yesterday I did.
Esau Cairn, the hero of this adventure, finds himself on the planet Almuric by means of a process which is kept secret by the scientist who sent him. It's a clever dodge and points up the fact that the means is of almost no importance to this type of tale. It's sufficient that it worked and let's get on with the show. Cairn is one of the most unlikeable rogues I've ever encountered in fiction. He's a misanthropic brute who is beset by extreme anger management issues. He takes his pugilistic attitudes to his new planet and almost immediately mugs a native for his gear. Later it's shown this guy was a baddie, but I can't get over how Cairn is one of those narcissistic thugs who feels that all the world (and in this case other worlds too) are set against him.
Cairn brags constantly how much better he is than most men and how unusually suited to this new hostile environment he is. It gets a bit tiresome to read his constant bleating on these points. After months in the wild, he at last seeks civilization and finds that the main population of the planet is a gang of barbarians arranged in cities which war with one another all the time. The men are beastly but the women of course are lovely and he finds himself instantly attracted to one in particular, a dame named Altha. Cairn of course finds himself included in this barbarian society, but never seems grateful for the honor the culture affords him. Instead he seems to think they are very lucky to have him.
The main story gets underway when black winged creatures, demons of a sort appear who feast on human flesh and basically lord it over the planet. Of course the dame gets kidnapped and the adventure is on.
The story in Almuric is briskly paced, typical of a Howard story, but even more so. The pedal seems down to the floor from the get go. There is no sense of depth to many of the characters, they merely perform their functions as loyal companions or sniggering enemies as the plot requires. The framework of the story is similar to Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Mars and Venus novels, but in this one the point of view is relentlessly with our "hero" Esau.
Almuric is a diverting entertainment. Some suggest its roughness comes from the fact it's an early draft of a story Howard meant to polish later. That makes sense. It has that kind of rough-hewn character. A major strength of a Howard story is his amazing ability to draw the reader in, and despite my animus to Esau Cairn as a particularly unlikeable character, this story does just that. There's no putting it down once you start it. You must find out how it ends.
I recommend this to Howard fans for sure, but then most Howard fans already know. For others, I'd say don't start with this one. Check out some of Howard's more polished and atmospheric material before allowing the frightful Esau Cairn to be your first blush with a Howardian hero.